Do trees sleep?

by | Jul 25, 2017 | Seasons Newsletter | 8 comments


What do trees and grizzly bears have in common?

According to forester Peter Wohlleben, who wrote The Hidden Life of Trees, bears prepare for hibernation by eating and eating to grow fat and sustain themselves for months of sleep with no food. And would you believe it, trees do the same?

Where does the food come from to sustain the sleep of trees over winter? It comes from their own bodies.

The leaves of trees are mini protein-makers, busy all through the green season making protein and sugars to feed the underground growth of roots, and the above-ground growth of trunk and branches, flowers, fruit and seeds.


Shutting off those mini-factories

Before going to sleep for the winter, trees need first to stop working. And so deciduous trees shut off protein-making and release their no-longer-wanted leaves to the ground. Now they are ready, not exactly to grow fat, but a tree-ish equivalent, as they draw down those nutrients from their leaves in order to store them under their skin.

Have you ever held a winter tree? Try for yourself. When I hold my trees in winter I sense into a solid, grounded feeling in the trunk. The trees are fat and full. The feeling is quite different from holding a spring tree, with its surging sap, or a summer tree with its leafy abundance.

So yes, trees sleep, peacefully.


And how about you?

In winter, are you able to withdraw from being highly productive — or at least from expecting to be as productive as you might be in spring, for example? Can you resist big initiatives, knowing that this is not the best time for enterprise?

Can you accept the slowing of energy, along with the slowing of your metabolism, in winter? Can you feel a sense of kinship with the sleeping trees?

Resting and conserving energy is the task of this season. For many, this is a welcome change and something of a relief.


What is the secret to sustaining yourself in winter?

Here are some tips:

1. Take a winter retreat, or restful holiday. I’ve done this over past years by booking myself into a retreat centre to be cared for as I tuck up with my books and coloured pencils. This year I’ve been retreating at home by reducing my work load, including taking a month off writing this newsletter.


2. Seek soul food. For some, this will be through reading, rest and restorative yoga. For others it will be concerts, comedy and choirs. For others, movies, making/mending, and mirth.

For me, it’s been quietly working on my new book while the rain rattles the windows and thunder rumbles overhead. I have the time to take things slowly, and allow for creative gestation. Winter is my creative season, a time to descend into the deep well and retrieve treasure.

I can take a walk to find a word.
Take a stretch break to hone a phrase.
Take time out to contemplate a choice about structure.


3. Make something. Find a project for your hands, to take you off screen and into connection with your body. Some like to knit, or sew quilts, or attend to mending, in the age old tribal tradition of tending and preparing. My ancestors would mend tools and fishing nets in winter, weave on looms and carve wood.

One woman I know is keeping a visual diary, and another has started a written journal. If you have the impulse to create something, winter’s slowness will support you.


Be well, be at peace, be patient. The rush of spring will soon lift you up into busy intentions and new challenges. Enjoy the gifts of winter while you can, and lean into a sleeping tree.


Winter has a concentrated and nutty kernel, if you know how to find it.
—Henry David Thoreau


This blog is an extract from my Seasons Newsletter. To receive the Seasons Newsletter, you may sign up on the home page of this website and receive a free audio meditation.


  1. marja

    That’s why you probably get these differences in the ring of a tree as it sleeps. I slow down in winter and sleep a bit more in a warm bed, I read more and write more poetry as in summer I am more out and about. So I love the winter.

    • Juliet Batten

      Marja, how lovely to hear of your winter rest and creative activity. I look forward to seeing more of your poetry. Thank you.

  2. Hilary Melton-Butcher

    Hi Juliet – I’m sure trees sleep and when awake talk to each other in their lingo … but I definitely need lots of sleep … thankfully I manage to sleep well … cheers Hilary

    • Juliet Batten

      Thank you Hilary. I like the idea of trees talking to each other in their lingo.

  3. Penny

    The one thing I have not done in a very long time is to take a winter retreat. While I walk in the wintry woods, read more, sleep a little longer (or a bit earlier), it has been quite a spell since I’ve taken a winter retreat. You’ve given me something to think about, Juliet . . .

    While not “on topic” with winter sustenance, one thing I have always enjoyed doing is walking in the gardens in the dark. I am certain I can hear the plants growing. In winter, way up here, there is a special stillness at night in winter. I think that is when trees talk the most.

    Loved this post, Juliet.

    • Juliet Batten

      Penny, a winter retreat is very special, and it sounds as if you are due for one! It will need planning, and of course, with you being in summer now you have plenty of time. I love what you say about walking in the gardens at night and hearing the plants growing. I too love being among the trees at night, and now I’m going to listen to them talking. Thank you so much for that suggestion Penny, & for your appreciation.

  4. Nadezda

    You’re right Juliet, when I touch the tree trunk in winter I feel only cold bark and in spring the trunk is always warm. I do minimize energy in winter time as well, I love cross stitching and every winter, in January -February I create a new picture with cotton or wool threads.
    So I agree with – trees sleep in winter.

    • Juliet Batten

      Thank you Nadezda. I like to think of you making a new cross-stitch picture every winter, and touching the tree trunks in the different seasons.


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